RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Republican lawmakers have agreed that the final version of a bill blocking transgender athletes from playing on teams based on their gender identity should include college sports, according to Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell) who has been one of the leading proponents of the bill.
Sawyer said she’s hopeful the General Assembly will pass the bill as soon as next week. Last month, the House and Senate passed bills addressing the matter. While the Senate version applied to K-12 schools, the House version also extended to public and private colleges and universities.
“We can control, as a legislature, public education. But when you get into private colleges and the NCAA, sometimes that’s out of our scope. And, I was afraid if we were to include colleges, we would be harming the bill overall,” said Sen. Sawyer (R-Iredell). “As long as we can protect all female athletes, I’m going to go for as many as we can.”
Under the bills that previously passed, students would play on teams based on their biological sex at birth.
The legislation drew fierce criticism from the LGBTQ community as it’s one in a series of bills Republicans have filed and debated impacting transgender youth in particular.
“It’s really unfair. It’s hurtful and it’s causing real damage right now,” said Allison Scott, director of impact and innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality. “The fact that these bills keep coming up, especially this year there’s an avalanche of them, show that we are just delaying a conversation in America that needs to happen.”
The Associated Press reports about 20 states have passed similar laws in the past few years. The U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to intervene in a case involving West Virginia’s law while a legal challenge to it plays out in a lower court.
The Biden administration has also proposed a new rule that would block outright bans on transgender athletes but would allow restrictions in certain situations, such as to ensure fairness.
The NCAA is in the process of implementing a new policy under which participation in sports by transgender athletes would be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.
In North Carolina, the N.C. High School Athletic Association allows students to participate on teams corresponding to their gender identity after completing a petition process that includes providing documentation from a healthcare provider.
The association says it has approved 16 transgender students to play. Two of those students are transgender females.
Riley Gaines, a former collegiate swimmer who has gained national attention for advocating for bills addressing the issue, has urged North Carolina lawmakers to include collegiate sports.
“At the collegiate level, this is where you’re going to see your greatest differences between male athletes and female athletes,” she said. “It allows everyone to play. It gives everyone chances for athletic opportunity, athletic success. It gives fairness and privacy to every single person.”
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has urged Republicans not to pursue legislation like this, arguing it would be discriminatory and bad for the state’s reputation.
Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature. Three Democrats voted with Republicans in the House last month when the bills were first considered.
“Our staying away from culture wars has been a definite advantage for us over the last few years in economic recruitment,” he said earlier this month, going on to describe the General Assembly as “an amazing anti-Republican, anti-conservative legislature that’s trying to strengthen government in people’s personal lives, and I think that’s wrong.”